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Senate Committee Approves HEA Reauthorization

On June 20, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved, 17-3, the Higher Education Access Act (as-yet-unnumbered). The committee also passed, 20-0, the Higher Education Amendments Act (S.1642) to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) (P.L. 105-244).

As part of the budget reconciliation process mandated under the FY2008 budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 21), the Higher Education Access Act, sponsored by Chair Edward Kennedy (D-MA), would reduce subsidies to private student loan companies by more than $18 billion, which would be used to increase Pell Grants for low-income students and pay down the deficit. In addition, the bill would boost the Pell Grant maximum award to $5,400 by 2011, create a new “Promise” grant for the neediest of Pell Grant recipients, establish a loan forgiveness plan for some public service employees, and increase the family income eligibility level under which students may qualify for the maximum Pell Grant to $30,000.

During consideration of the Higher Education Access Act, the committee adopted an en bloc amendment by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) that would authorize $10 million for FY2008 and 2009 to create a financial literacy program for students who take out student loans and establish a program to improve high school graduation rates.

S. 1642, also sponsored by Sen. Kennedy, would simplify the form needed to apply for federal student financial aid, authorize a federally-funded graduate fellowship program named after former Rep. Patsy T. Mink (D-HI) to encourage women and minorities to become college professors, and expand eligibility for the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grant program to more students majoring in science, math, engineering, technology, and critical foreign languages.

During consideration of S. 1642, the committee adopted an en bloc amendment, also by Sen. Burr, to ban individuals convicted of a criminal offense against a minor, a sexually violent offense, or of murder from eligibility for job training grants designed to help youth transition from prison; and to provide stipends for mentors.

Sen. Kennedy said, “The Higher Education Access Act of 2007 and the Higher Education Amendments of 2007 will provide more than $17 billion to help students and families pay for college. This legislation will help revise the crisis in college affordability. It will immediately and dramatically increase the Pell Grant; help students manage their debt by capping student loan payments at 15 percent of their monthly income; and forgive the loans of those who enter society’s most valuable professions.” He continued, “In short, our proposals will restore the fundamental principle that guided the Higher Education Act at its inception that no student should have to mortgage his or her future in order to pay for higher education today.”

Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY) said, “After three years of negotiations, Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on a number of key measures to make college more affordable for students by providing meaningful increases to Pell Grants, restore students’ trust in student loan programs by holding lenders and schools to a code of conduct, and ensure that students and parents have the information they need about the costs of college and the impact of their loans to make sound decisions about their futures.”

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